Legionnaires’ Disease. Essential Reading for Business Owners during Covid-19 Pandemic.

April 08, 2020 - 11:00am

Legionnaires’ Disease. Essential Reading for Business Owners during Covid-19 Pandemic.

The following guidance is crucial if we are to avoid cases of Legionnaires’ Disease following the current Covid-19 outbreak.  

During this grim but essential lockdown period, many businesses, hotels, pubs, schools, colleges and public buildings are not being used, which is creating another hazard and potential serious health risk, that we are compelled to inform and warn people about. 

In most buildings under normal circumstances, the water supply is being used on a daily basis. It is kept flowing through normal use, which prevents potential stagnation in pipes.  Regular flow of cold water keeps it below 20oC and hot water should be kept above 50oC at outlets.  If there is any variation between these temperatures, added to this stagnation, it’s ideal territory for the build-up of biofilm in your water systems and the proliferation of Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires’ Disease.

This bacteria doubles in number every 4 to 6 hours, so a single bacterium on day one can become more than 1.5 million by day five.

Legionnaires’ Disease is on the increase both in the UK and Globally and a single outbreak has infected 180 and caused 29 deaths. In 2002 the outbreak in Barrow infected 130 and caused 7 deaths.

We do not want to see people who have come through the COVID-19 pandemic become victim to this potential killer as the lockdown is eased.

What You Must Do – if feasible and allowable under the current lockdown rules

  1. If at all possible, for smaller systems, try to run both hot and cold water at the furthest outlet from the incoming mains for 5 minutes once a week. Stand back from the taps to avoid inhalation of water vapour. We realise that this may mean additional journeys, so to be clear, we cannot instruct you to do this. Also, for larger systems with many outlets and separate systems will be almost impossible for a single person to flush.
  1. Cold Water: When the lockdown is eased, flush all outlets, although this may not be enough if the water has not been used over several weeks, which looks likely. Under normal circumstances the HSE recommend that any outlet not used regularly should be flushed weekly.
  1. Hot Water: If at all possible upon your return, turn your water heating asset up to 70oC for half an hour then run it through all hot water outlets. WARNING – inform anyone onsite not to use the hot water whilst doing this as it could cause scalding. This is referred to as ‘thermal disinfection’. The safest and preferred alternative to this is chlorination of the system ‘chemical disinfection’, which is also used for cold water pipework and we can undertake this service.

We issue the above guidance and advise great caution. We offer free advice to anyone wishing to undertake any of these actions, which may seem simple, but also carry inherent risks.  If checking on the internet be sure that you are using a reputable source, preferably the HSE.

Under Health and Safety at Work Regulations, any business with more than 5 people working on site, or to which members of the public/visitors have access, and landlords are obliged by law to have a Legionella Risk Assessment.  Where businesses have not taken precautions and an outbreak or death occurs, fines can be eye-wateringly large, often into 6 or even 7 figures.  Even without an outbreak, G4S was fined £1.8 Million for not having adequate precautions in place.  The HSE will prosecute vigorously and have the power to shut down your business.

About Legionella

Unlike COVID-19, Legionellosis is not contagious person to person though it has a fatality rate of 10-12% of those contracting it.  The physical effects and symptoms are very similar to CV19 in that it attacks the lungs if breathed in through water aerosols – tiny droplets of water that become airborne from splashing water – taps, showers, garden hoses, water features, air conditioning, cooling towers, etc.  Contaminated aerosol can travel up to 6 km and still be viable if breathed in.  Recovery can take up to 18 months, some people never fully recover as amputation of limbs and deafness can be caused by the disease depending on the severity of the case.  For more info and to learn who is most at risk visit https://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/

For free advice contact David Brayshaw at Aqua Engineering Solutions Ltd., on 01524 66512 or email David@aquaengineering.co.uk